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Ethnologische Betrachtungsweisen: Wittgenstein, Frazer, Sraffa

Marco Brusotti
Published Online: 2016-02-20 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/witt-2016-0105


The late Wittgenstein is reported as saying that he owes his ‘anthropological approach’ to Piero Sraffa. In February 1932, however, Wittgenstein reproaches the Italian economist with misunderstandings similar to those he had criticized in the work of the Scottish anthropologist James Frazer six months before. According to a well-known anecdote, a gesture of Sraffa’s had a momentous influence onWittgenstein’s philosophical development.The ‘grammar of gestures’ elaborated by him in the early 1930s is an attempt to answer questions such as those raised by his friend’s Neapolitan gesture. There is a substantial difference between what the late Wittgenstein calls his ‘ethnological way of looking’ and the stance he had adopted in his early criticism of Frazer’s Golden Bough in June/July 1931. In February 1932,Wittgenstein replied to Sraffa’s objections with arguments similar to those he had already raised against Frazer’s very different method. Sraffa pushed Wittgenstein to adopt natural history and to transform his philosophy into an empirical approach. However, in the early 1930s Wittgenstein refused to do either. In order to learn how to look at philosophical problems with an ‘anthropological’ eye from Sraffa, he will need to learn, against Sraffa, not to reduce philosophy to anthropology (natural history). Years later,Wittgenstein still insists on the contrast he had marked between himself and Sraffa: Using imaginary scenarios he intends to show how a superficial analogy can mislead us to mistaking institutions, having an entirelydifferent nature, for economic systems - resulting in them seeming ‘irrational’, ‘unlogical’.

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Published Online: 2016-02-20

Published in Print: 2016-02-01

Citation Information: Wittgenstein-Studien, Volume 7, Issue 1, Pages 39–64, ISSN (Online) 1868-7458, ISSN (Print) 1868-7431, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/witt-2016-0105.

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